By Sophene Avedissian
Photo Credit: Pew Research Center
From the activism of Greta Thunberg, who led a global climate movement demanding action against climate change, to the #NeverAgain movement created by the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to advocate for stricter gun regulation, the political engagement of Gen Z has become increasingly apparent. Whether advocating for climate change, gender equality, or racial justice, Gen Z has been called the generation that will undoubtedly “save the world.” While titles such as “agents of change” and “leaders of tomorrow” have been afforded to Gen Z to highlight their promise, they can easily lead to a world where members of other generations turn a blind eye to prominent problems and expect Gen Z, time and time again, to take the necessary steps to address these significant issues.
Undoubtedly, Gen Z is a resilient generation that prioritizes advancing social change. 70% of Gen Zers have been reported to be involved in either a social or political cause. For years now, members of Gen Z have turned to social media platforms and the Internet to spread awareness about issues. Many movements and discussions surrounding important topics are instigated as a result of a single post on Instagram or a brief video on TikTok.
Accessibility to use social media platforms as a tool in their activism and advocacy has resulted in uniquely high numbers of Gen Zers prioritizing civic engagement. While, in theory, Gen Z’s accessibility to social media, and in turn, the ability to ignite societal change, has made a positive impact on the world, it also has consequences.
Gen Z’s ability to use social media as a means of advancing social change has created a reality where teens feel pressured to take the necessary steps for change that other generations are less willing to take. While dedication to advocacy and activism should be celebrated among teens, the problem lies where Gen Z feels completely responsible for resolving the world’s most pressing issues. What role are other generations including baby boomers and Gen Xers playing?
Not only is Gen Z dedicated to tackling difficult problems that continue to permeate communities across the globe, but Gen Z also has a unique hope for the future unparalleled to other generations. According to a poll from MTV and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 66% of Gen Z believe their generation is motivated to make positive change in the world, compared to 63% of millennial Americans and 56% of Gen Z Americans. Additionally, Gen Z is confident that they can impact the actions and decisions of the government, with 44% of them saying so.
Hope for the future, however, does not always contribute to Gen Z’s unyielding drive to instigate great social change. Rather, the reality that action is not always being taken by others, particularly those in charge, makes some youth think that it is up to them to take a stand. David Hogg, a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, is a prime example of a young person who – when left with no other choice – made it their mission to address an issue deeply important to them. Following the Florida mass shooting, Hogg began his advocacy work to demand stronger gun regulation. He tweeted, “I’m not powered by hope. I’m powered by the fact that I have no other choice.”
Hogg’s experience is not unique, however. In 2019, climate activist Greta Thunberg explained, “This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to use young people for hope. How dare you!” Similar to Hogg’s position, Thunberg feels that she was left with no other choice but to advocate to prioritize addressing climate change.
While advocating for action against climate change, Thunberg encountered a lack of support from older generations. Leaked documents obtained by Vice in 2020 revealed how Amazon’s Global Security Operations Center keeps track of organizations that pose a threat to the operations of the company. Two reports from 2019 identified growing anti-climate change movements in Europe as a potential threat, Thunberg’s group Fridays for Future being one of them.
In a tweet directed towards Amazon in 2020, Thunberg wrote, “...if you consider schoolchildren fighting for the right to a safe future to be a ‘threat to your business’, then you seriously need to reconsider your priorities…”
Amazon’s actions to surveillance of environmental groups is merely one instance of older generations making decisions based on flawed “priorities.” Older generations can and should be part of the change for a better future. Not only can older generations value the issues important to younger generations, but they also can work to address them so that Gen Z no longer is the group that, in the words of Hogg, has "no other choice.
With Gen Z’s high civic engagement, older generations may begin to feel comfortable standing on the sidelines, leaving Gen Z with the duty to put change into motion. But, social change cannot occur while other generations sit idly by and take a step back. One person cannot be responsible for changing the world and neither can one generation. All individuals, communities, and generations can play a significant role in addressing the world’s most pressing matters.
After all, change starts when we all take the first step – together.